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U.S. "Ready to Go" for Strike on Syria; Inside White House's Syria Push; Raging Yosemite Wildfire Grows in Size; Starbucks Not Cutting Benefits Due To Obamacare; Interview With Sen. John McCain; Picture Of Double-Amputee Marine On Wife's Back Goes Viral; Pageant Contestant's Senseless Answer; Zimmerman To Ask State For Costs Of Case

Aired August 27, 2013 - 17:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: Happening now, we have new details of what appears to be an inevitable American military strike against Syria. We're talking about it with Senator John McCain.

Also, George Zimmerman asks Florida for hundreds of thousands of dollars for court costs.

And their picture went viral. Now this couple is speaking out about the photo that's touched so many people and the story behind it.

I'm Wolf Blitzer.


Military retaliation for Syria's suspected chemical weapons attack now appears to be a matter of when, not if. U.S. forces are said to be ready to go, only awaiting President Obama's order. The commander-in- chief has been consulting with allied leaders by phone and now the White House is offering some clues about what the looming strike will and won't entail.

Our senior White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, has got the latest information.

What are you hearing over there -- Jim?

JIM ACOSTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, White House officials say President Obama is already discussing options for Syria. So he continues to line up support up on Capitol Hill and overseas for what appears to be an inevitable military strike for crossing that red line on chemical weapons.

But White House officials are drawing other lines, indicating just how far the president is willing to go.


ACOSTA (voice-over): As White House state officials saying President Obama is making progress toward a decision to use military force against Syria, it was the vice president's turn to present the case for action. JOSEPH BIDEN, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: And those who use chemical weapons against defenseless men, women and children should and must be held accountable.


ACOSTA: White House press secretary, Jay Carney, all but telegraphed a strike on Syria in the coming days. But he would only make clear what's not in the president's array of military options -- no boots on the ground in Syria and no effort to remove Syrian leader, Bashar Al- Assad, from power.

(on camera): And as the president weighs his options, does he want to take out Assad?

And would his death be a welcomed outcome at this White House?

CARNEY: I appreciate the question. I want to make clear that the options that we are considering are not about regime change, they are about responding to a clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.

ACOSTA (voice-over): In an interview with the BBC, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said the Pentagon is awaiting the president's call.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And if the order comes, you're ready to go like that?

CHUCK HAGEL, SECRETARY OF DEFENSE: We are ready to go like that.

ACOSTA: President Obama now has nearly every major U.S. ally echoing his administration's goals for a Syria strike.

DAVID CAMERON, BRITISH PRIME MINISTER: This is not about getting involved in a Middle Eastern war or changing our stance in Syria or going further into that conflict. It's nothing to do with that. It's about chemical weapons. Their use is wrong and the world shouldn't stand idly by.

PRES. FRANCOIS HOLLANDE, FRANCE (through translator): France is ready to punish those who took this disgusting decision to gas innocent people.

ACOSTA: There was even a boost of support coming in from leaders in the Arab League.

NASSIF HITTI, ARAB LEAGUE SPOKESMAN (through translator): We place full responsibility on the Syrian regime over this horrid crime and we call for all perpetrators of this crime to be tried in international courts for war crimes.

ACOSTA: Syria's foreign minister rejected the allegations and warned of consequences.

WALID MOALLEM SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: I categorically deny this matter. We have the materials to defend ourselves. We will surprise others.

ACOSTA: But one key former U.S. weapons inspector, David Kay, said he's not buying it.

DAVID KAY, FORMER U.N. WEAPONS INSPECTOR: No one believes that the rebels have the capability to launch such a large scale chemical attack using aircraft and missiles. It's just beyond their inventory. These are AK-47 and RPG guys, not missile and pilots.


ACOSTA: And White House officials continue to say they plan to release an intelligence assessment for their case against Syria and that that report is expected this week, and before any military action is taken.

And, Wolf, one official, I should point out, did caution to us they don't feel like they don't feel this intelligence assessment is needed to make that case against Syria. They say that the evidence is already plain to see -- Wolf.

BLITZER: A lot of us were expecting that intelligence report out today.

What's the delay, if there is a delay?

ACOSTA: They're not talking about any delay at this point, Wolf. They feel like, at this point, that this case was already made over the weekend, when reports were starting to come in from independent medical organizations that said it was clear that it appeared chemical weapons were used. So at this point, they're still putting together that intelligence assessment. That is expected to be presented to the American people, presented to the world, before any military action is taken, and that, at some point this week, it will be coming out, just not today.

BLITZER: All right, Jim Acosta over at the White House.

Thanks very much.

Let's dig a little bit deeper right now with our chief political analyst, Gloria Borger, and our chief national correspondent, John King -- Gloria, it looks like a pretty strategic advance right now. The secretary of State yesterday, the vice president today, maybe the president tomorrow.

GLORIA BORGER, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL ANALSYST: Right. I mean what you're seeing, as we were discussing yesterday, is the beginning of a real strategic roll out here, part of an education, if you will, of the American public, and, as well as the Congress. Congress is not in town. The president is on the phone. The secretary of State is on the phone. The Secretary of Defense is on the phone with his counterparts. This is all up to the roll out.

Part of that is declassifying some of this information to tell the American public. I spoke with one good source today who said, you know, this isn't like Saddam Hussein, when we were looking for where his secrets were hidden. This is out in the open.

However, now that the American public has been promised some of this declassified information, and they were already out there saying that they're going to do it, I think it's incumbent upon them to do it.

BLITZER: But they look at the polls, over at the White House, as you well know. The American public has made it clear they don't want to get involved in another Iraq, Afghanistan, even Libya, for that matter.

JOHN KING, CNN CHIEF NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: And that's why there's such high pressure on the president when he steps out. We've had Secretary Kerry. We've had the vice president. We have Secretary Hagel, as he travels. You just saw there in Jim's piece, you know, the prime minister of Great Britain and the president of France have already spoken to their people about this.

And so the White House -- you always, you remember this from covering the White House, you save the president for when you're trying to get to the finish line. And so they -- they're waiting to sort this out. The president has to make his case to the American people.

But to the point about this intelligence assessment, we were told by some sources early this morning it would be out today. There is a bit of a tug of war inside the administration about how much to put out.

And part of this, Wolf, is the hangover of the legacy of the Iraq War.

BORGER: Right.

KING: They understand some American people will be skeptical, some people in the president's own party, anti-war forces, will be skeptical, and people around the world. You're already hearing Iran, the Syrian government saying you can't believe the United States, we've been down this road before.

BORGER: Right.

KING: So they have a credibility bar to pass. And remember, Senator Barack Obama was very critical of the Bush administration, saying if you're going to do this, you've got to make a better case for it. That's pressure on him.

BORGER: And -- and to that point, Wolf, I spoke with a senior Democrat, Chris van Holland, today.

Let's take a listen to what he said exactly on this point of the administration needing to make its case publicly.


REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D), MARYLAND: It seems pretty clear that chemical weapons were used. But I think that they should come forward with additional evidence linking the regime to that use of chemical weapons. After all, in Iraq, there were claims made that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical weapons. We went to war. It turned out not to be the case.


BORGER: Now, again, you talk to administration officials and they will say this is so different from Iraq and Saddam Hussein.

But as John points out, that hangs over all of this.

BLITZER: And the timing of this is pretty awkward right now, because the end of next week, the president is supposed to be in St. Petersburg, Russia. He'll, no doubt, have to believe with Russian president, Putin, assuming he still goes. And there's every reason to believe he will still go.

KING: Right.

BLITZER: If it happens right after a series of U.S. cruise missile attacks against the Syrian ally of Russia, that could be awkward.

KING: It could well even be in the middle of an operation in the sense that our expectation is you would have a first wave. Then they'd have a battle damage assessment -- how did those, assuming the first wave is cruise missiles, maybe some airborne targeting, as well. Then you have a battle damage assessment. And then, almost always, there's a second wave to sort of finish up what you wanted to do.

My understanding is that Ban Ki-moon, the U.N. secretary-general, has told the president, number one, they're not going to go to the Security Council. They know Russia and China would object.

Ban Ki-moon understands that. My understanding is what he has asked the administration is to let those inspectors on the ground finish their mission. They're scheduled to be done on Sunday.

So most people seem to think that you have until Sunday, unless something changes.

But for the president to be overseas while this is playing out, again, adds to the challenge he has, making the case not only to a every skeptical American public, but then on the global stage.

It's a G --

BORGER: But also --

BLITZER: -- it's a G20 Summit in St. Petersburg.

BORGER: -- let me raise this point.

How bad would it look for the president to be isolating Putin in front of an international coalition there?

I mean, as far as the president is concerned, I don't think that plays badly for him.

BLITZER: Well, it might help the -- Putin back in Russia. BORGER: Well, that's right. So --


BLITZER: All right, guys.

KING: All politics is local.

BLITZER: -- we'll see what happens with this trip. We'll see what happens over the next few days.

Thanks very much.

Coming up, I'll speak with a top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, Senator John McCain.


What is he hearing about a looming strike against Syria?

Also coming up, we'll have the latest on that massive wildfire charring thousands of acres at Yosemite National Park. We're live on the front lines.


BLITZER: A desperate race against time for thousands of firefighters battling a massive wildfire threatening Yosemite National Park. The raging Rim Fire has now ravaged close to 180,000 acres and is barely contained.

CNN's Casey Wian got an up close look at the inferno.

He's joining us now from Groveland, California with the latest.

What are you seeing over there -- Casey?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, Wolf, we've seen a lot of hot spots that are still burning in this area surrounding Yosemite National Park. We did get a very up close view earlier today. I went there with photographer David Lake, my producer, Jack Hannah. We got uncomfortably close to some of those flames. I think you can see the pictures right now.

One of the biggest issues right now, these giant trees that have been damaged, but not knocked down by the fire. They are called snags. That's what firefighters call them. They're a big danger for firefighters. Where we were, we heard several of them fall, perhaps four or five of them crash to the ground. That's one of the big challenges that firefighters are facing.

Let's listen to what one official had to say about that.


JOHNNY MILLER, PIO, RIM INCIDENT: One of the biggest concerns is that, obviously, you see these large trees out here. So we have a lot of those trees that are dropping. They're falling in isolated areas. So our firefighters really have to be heads-up while they're out there, putting water on the fire. They have to be looking up, looking down, looking around, making sure that their -- all their safety points are in check.


WIAN: Now, you can see over my shoulder some of the damage that this fire has already caused. As you mentioned, 180,000 acres have burned in this area. We're showing you a live picture right now, where you can see the visibility is not very bad. Four or five hours ago, you couldn't see 100 yards down into this canyon.

There is an inversion layer that comes in in the morning and holds the smoke into these valleys and canyons. And it absolutely is choking -- very, very difficult to breathe in the mornings. And that's happening almost every day now.

The good news, though, is that humidity that causes this smoke to stay down in these areas is actually helping firefighters manage this firefighting effort better. There's also some more good news. Yosemite National Park itself, Wolf, only about 3 percent of the park has burned. So the valley that so many people are familiar with, where all those landmarks are and all that scenery is, that, officials say, is still safe for visitors -- Wolf.

BLITZER: Let's hope it stays like that. Casey Wian on the front lines for us. Thanks very much.

Coming up, Senator John McCain shares what he's hearing about an apparently looming U.S. military strike on Syria.

Plus, cars that drive themselves. One auto maker plans to start selling them in just a few years.


BLITZER: Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, says he will not use Obamacare as an excuse to lower benefits for his workers. The coffee chain provides insurance for 160,000 employees, even part-time workers. Starbucks clearly bucking the trend.

UPS is cutting benefits to employees' spouses and other companies thinking of making changes include Forever 21, Fat Burger, and perhaps, Delta, which says health care will cost an extra $100 million next year but didn't specify Obamacare as the reason.

In related news, Wal-Mart says it will offer health insurance benefits to same-sex couples and domestic partners starting next year. The nation second largest employer behind only the federal government will cover benefits for couples who've been living together for at least a year. It comes just months after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act which previously defined marriage as between a man and a woman. Edward Snowden has a new high-profile supporter in Hollywood. The actor, Matt Damon, spoke the NSA leaker in an interview for the BBC Arabic show, "Alternative Cinema." Listen to this.


MATT DAMON, ACTOR: I think it's a great thing that he did, you know? I think if we're going to trade our civil liberties for our security, then that should be a decision that we collectively make, you know, it shouldn't be made for us.


BLITZER: Damon is no stranger to espionage, at least, when it comes to the movies. One of his most well-known roles is that of the U.S. secret agent, Jason Bourne in the Bourne trilogy.

And Nissan says it's planning to sell self-driving cars by the year 2020. The Japanese automaker says it's working with a number of universities including M.I.T. to perfect the technology. General Motors, Toyota and Audi are also working on self-driving cars as is the tech giant Google, which has been working on the technology for years.

Up next, a top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee joins me. I'll ask Senator John McCain what he thinks the U.S. should do in Syria right now.

Plus we have details of George Zimmerman's request for court costs. He's asking Florida -- the state of Florida and the taxpayers there for hundreds of thousands of dollars.


BLITZER: Happening now --


BLITZER (voice-over): A possible U.S. military strike against Syria only days away. Just ahead, Senator John McCain tells me what he wants President Obama to do and what concerns him most right now.

Also, George Zimmerman's plans to ask the state of Florida for hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursement for court expenses. His attorney, Mark O'Mara, is here to explain.

And he's the face of war in Afghanistan and the life that may be possible after. You're going to find out why this heartwarming Facebook photo has gone viral.

I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in the SITUATION ROOM.


BLITZER (on-camera): International diplomacy and military mite aligning right now for what appears to be an inevitable U.S. retaliatory strike by the United States and its allies against Syria. The White House says this week we can expect to see an intelligence report showing that the Bashar al-Assad regime in Damascus did, in fact, use chemical weapons against its own citizens last week.

Our Pentagon correspondent, Chris Lawrence, is joining us with the latest details. Chris, what have we learned about the actual proof the White House claims it has on Syria's use of chemical weapons?

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Yes, Wolf. A U.S. official is telling me that this intelligent assessment contains forensic evidence that an actual chemical attack took place as well as some intercepted communications among Syrian forces that suggest the regime was responsible. A separate source is also telling CNNs John King that the report contains some satellite images of activity at potentially chemical weapons depots.

Now, the source also tells me that this information has already been shared among senior Obama administration officials. It was in the process of being declassified. He thought it could have been released as early as today. Now, the White House indicating sometime soon.

BLITZER: New information about one of the military options the president is considering.

LAWRENCE: That's right. We're also getting some information about this option that is the most likely and the most limited. A senior defense official is telling me basically that this could be over in a matter of days. He said possibly even as short as 48 hours. It involves air strikes from one of the four navy destroyers positioned off the coast in the Eastern Mediterranean sea.

We also know that there are British and U.S. subs in those waters as well. They're all equipped with tomahawk cruise missiles that could be used to strike land targets. The official says there will be an initial strike and then a period of assessment to see how much damage has been done and what else needs to be done in any subsequent strikes, Wolf.

BLITZER: Chris Lawrence at the Pentagon, thanks very much.

Even some who are strongly in favor of a strike on Syria warn that the wrong kind of attack could back fire.


BLITZER: And joining us now, Senator John McCain, Republican of Arizona. He's a key member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. Senator, what do you think the Obama administration, the United States, needs to do right now as far as Syria is concerned?

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: I think that retaliatory action, particularly since Bashar al-Assad crossed, again, not for the first time the red line that the president of the United States stated would be unacceptable.

But the question is, Wolf, will these just be some cruise missile strikes for three days as reported by the media or will it be actions that will reverse the momentum on the ground in Syria, taking out their air assets, taking out some of their capabilities and getting weapons to General Idris and his people that can reverse some momentum on the battlefield.

If it's just some strikes with cruise missiles, then it will not only not do any good, it may be counterproductive and help Bashar Assad with his propaganda. So, I greatly am concerned about what kind of strikes these will be and what they will entail.

BLITZER: Well, it's clearly going to be militarily limited. I want to you listen to this exchange our White House correspondent, Jim Acosta, had with the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, today.


JIM ACOSTA, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: As the president weighs his options, does he want to take out Assad and would his death be a welcomed outcome at this White House?

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: I appreciate the question. I want to make clear that the options that we are considering are not about regime change. They are about responding to a clear violation of an international standard that prohibits the use of chemical weapons.


BLITZER: So, what do you think of that response?

MCCAIN: I'm not surprised, but I think it's very obvious that Bashar Assad has committed war crimes, but most importantly, we need to reverse the momentum to bring Bashar Assad down as the president two years ago said had to happen and a year ago said that it would be unacceptable crossing red line if he used chemical weapons.

We need -- we can reverse the situation on the battlefield by taking out his air assets, cratering his runways, and getting the weapons to the right people so that they can reverse the momentum.

If it's simply just going and doing some cruise missile strikes, then I think, again, it may be counterproductive. In fact, it may give Bashar al Assad a propaganda advantage by saying he was able to resist the United States' attacks.

BLITZER: Have you discussed your concerns in recent days with either the president, the vice president, his national security adviser, some of his aides?

MCCAIN: I had a conversation with the president's national security adviser with some specifics. I had a (INAUDIBLE) conversation with the president when it was first revealed that another chemical weapons attack had taken place.

I want to assure you, Wolf, that with those who want to leave this issue alone are not appreciative of how this is spreading. seeing deterioration in Iraq, al Qaeda being restored in Iraq and Syria, of the destabilization of Lebanon and Jordan and the list goes on. This is turning into a regional conflict, and we need to reverse it. Now is an opportunity to do so.

BLITZER: You may or may not be surprised to hear that the former House speaker Newt Gingrich totally disagrees with you. I interviewed him a little while ago. We're going to play the interview in the next hour. But he makes the point that right now, the U.S. probably would be better off doing nothing. Listen to this little clip.


NEWT GINGRICH, CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE (on the phone): Very few Americans are prepared to wage a Syrian campaign, which it sounds to me is what John McCain is describing. We're still occupied in Afghanistan, watching the mess in Libya, trying to help in Mali, looking at Egypt in chaos. I mean, the idea that we should go out and take on Syria next, I just think, is gross overextension.


BLITZER: Strong words from Newt Gingrich. Do you want to respond to him?

MCCAIN: Sure. I'm not advocating for any boots on the ground. I don't think that Mr. Gingrich and others perhaps appreciate that this conflict is spreading and turning into a regional conflict. It's not confined to Syria.

Also, is the United States prepared to sit by and watch 100,000 and more people slaughtered and massacred, including the use of chemical weapons, including other weapons supplied by Russia and Iran and, uh, the increasing presence of al Qaeda, uh, in the region?

Um, I -- I -- again, it's not requiring boots on the ground. It's not requiring serious things except supplying people with weapons with which to defend themselves and taking out the air asserts.

I don't think that that's bogged down in Syria. But if this situation continues to deteriorate, it will spread to the region and including endanger the nation of Israel, as they are beginning to recognize.

BLITZER: I want you to explain a comment that you made involving a letter that General Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, sent to some members of Congress, including Eliot Engel, of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. In that letter, among other things, Dempsey said, "It would not be militarily decisive, but it would commit us decisively to the conflict. Syria today is not about choosing between two sides, but rather about choosing one among many sides. We should evaluate the effectiveness of limited military options in this context."

That letter was written on August 19th. The chemical weapons attack occurred on August 21st. What was the point that you were trying to make about supposedly Dempsey giving Bashar al-Assad a green light? MCCAIN: Well, I think when the chief military person in the United States of America makes an unequivocal statement that we will not be involved under, basically, under any circumstances, I think that, clearly, Bashar Assad and his people read those reports. But most importantly is that I know, because I've been in Syria, Wolf, I know that General Idris and his people, we could get the weapons to them and they could succeed, if we take out the air assets and provide a safe zone for them to operate out of.

That does not mean American boots on the ground. That does not mean further escalation by the United States of America or involvement.

If we -- people worry about escalating involvement by the part of the United States. Those are decisions that are made. I would not make those decisions. Uh, but to sit by and watch the region deteriorate into chaos is something that is not in the United States' national security interests, not to mention our humanitarian view of massacre of well over 100,000 people. A million children are refugees. By the way, these children will grow up to be very significant adversaries of the United States because of their belief we abandoned them.

BLITZER: Senator McCain, thanks very much for joining us.

MCCAIN: Thank you for having me.


BLITZER: We're going to have much more on this crisis in Syria. Just ahead in our next hour, a SITUATION ROOM special report that we call "Crisis In Syria."

Also, a young couple shares a story behind a family photo that's touched so many people around the world.

But first, as we count down to the debut of CNN's new CROSSFIRE next month, here's a CROSSFIRE classic.


VAN JONES, CNN CO-HOST, CROSSFIRE: Well, the country's about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech. At this point, it's almost impossible to imagine that it was ever controversial to want to honor Dr. King. But in 1983, it certainly was to Jerry Falwell when he came on CROSSFIRE.


JERRY FALWELL, TELEVANGELIST: I don't think we need anymore holidays.

PAT BUCHANAN, FORMER CROSSFIRE HOST: Why not a Martin Luther King Day?

FALWELL: I just feel that there are other black Americans and the corporate body of black Americans who are due honor more than one recent individual about whom there's a great question mark even to this moment.

BUCHANAN: What is the question mark?

FALWELL: The question mark is that so far all the records on him are sealed and neither you, Tom nor I really know --

BUCHANAN: Are you talking about his personal character?


BUCHANAN: His personal morality and his personality life --

FALWELL: He may be as clean as Billy Graham, but we've don't know that because the records are sealed.




BLITZER: It's a touching image that not only captures the harsh reality of war, but it also reminds thousands of people what can be possible after. A Marine who lost both legs in Afghanistan, photographed with his wife carrying him on her back.

Here's CNN affiliate KTVB's Maggie O'Mara.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, fire in the hole.


MAGGIE O'MARA, KTVB CORRESPONDENT: Marine staff sergeant Jesse Cottle's world was forever changed in 2009.

COTTLE: We were on an IED clearing mission and on foot. It's not the safest job you could choose.

O'MARA: Jesse's job: to find and dismantle improvised explosive devices. You're looking at helmet cam video from that day in Afghanistan.

COTTLE: About five hours into that patrol, into that mission, I was struck by an anti-personnel I.E.D. It was a pressure plate. I stepped on it and there -- I lost both legs right away.

O'MARA: The explosion was caught on camera.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Cottle, Cottle! Oh, God!

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What do you need? What do you need?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Tourniquets! Tourniquets! Tourniquets!

COTTLE: I remember most everything. I was awake the whole time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: All right, get the litter out. Get the litter out.

WOODY: Hey, it's good. You're doing real good, all right?

COTTLE: All right.

WOODY: Trust me, brother, you're in good shape.

COTTLE: It was tough. And it is tough in general, but I just kind of always had the attitude that, you know, it's really tough now but things will just be okay. And I had my family around me. I had good friends. And basically just my faith really helped me to carry through, and I was lucky to be able to go through the tough recovery and then still live my life and meet my beautiful wife.

O'MARA: He met Kelly during his recovery. She was swimming for Boise State at the time.

COTTLE: I met her at a swim meet in san Diego.

KELLY COTTLE, JESSE COTTLE'S WIFE: I just remember being very intrigued by him. He was just very different and not just because of his legs, just who he was.

O'MARA: They were married in 2012. They live in San Diego now, but they're here in Idaho visiting Kelly's family. While they were here, they took family portraits.

KELLY COTTLE: It was a normal photo shoot. We finally all got together, and Jesse had his legs on and everything.

O'MARA: Photographer Sarah Ledford suggested a picture in the water.

KELLY COTTLE: So she said you can just pop your legs off and then get on one of our backs, and we can take you in. Because that's how we get around sometimes, like at the beach. But yes, we do it all the time. It's just pretty normal. So, he hopped on my back and then Sarah said, oh, we'll take some couple shots.

O'MARA: Ledford posted one of those shots, this one, on her Facebook page. She had no idea the image of Kelly carrying Jesse on her back would get the reaction it did.

SARAH LEDFORD, SHUTTERHAPPY PHOTOGRAPHY: Overwhelming. I can't even keep up with my page.

O'MARA: Thousands of likes, hundreds of shares and comments.

LEDFORD: The picture just blew up. I mean, America just fell in love with Jesse and Kelly.

COTTLE: God bless the both of you and thank you tremendously for your sacrifice for our freedom. You are a hero.

O'MARA: What's it like to see these comments, Jesse?

COTTLE: Again, just speechless. Having that kind of impact, it's very humbling.

My first reaction was I just wanted to be able to reply to each one, but then they kept coming. I'm glad that we can have that impact, that you don't expect it.

KELLY COTTLE: Yeah, no, it's just kind of normal for us. But it's cool because I think we represent a lot of people that are going through and a lot of couples that are going through the same thing. So it's just an honor to be able to represent that.

O'MARA: Now Jesse and his wife are an inspiration to thousands, and a reminder of the sacrifices being made by our military every day.


BLITZER: What a story. Let's thank Maggie O'Mara from KTVB, our affiliate, for bringing us that report. What a wonderful, wonderful couple.

Coming up, the "Crisis In Syria." A SITUATION ROOM special report on what appears to be a looming U.S. military strike. That starts right at the top of the hour.

Plus, why George Zimmerman wants Florida to pay his court costs. More than $200,000.


BLITZER: It was an embarrassing beauty pageant bust after a contestant was asked a question about the five senses but her answer didn't seem to make much sense.

Here's Jeanne Moos.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Warning, this may be uncomfortable. It may be awkward. But think how much worse it would be to be the one on stage at the Miss Philippines USA Pageant where beauty is only skin deep and so were the questions.

What if someone asked you of your five senses, which do you prefer?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If you could only have one?

JOANLIA LISING, MISS PHILIPPINES USA CONTESTANT: Thank you for that wonderful question.

MOOS: But Joanlia Lising's answer was a little less wonderful.

LISING: I would take seeing, because seeing is the best sense that we can ever see because seeing is believing. And believing into what you see is perfect.

MOOS: Bear with her just a little longer.

LISING: And out of all the senses, seeing would really be wonderful because -- thank you, that will be it.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you so much.

MOOS (on camera): Talk about senses? At least she had the sense to shut up. Maybe she should take comfort from Miss South Carolina who made the mother of all beauty pageant gaffes.

CAITE UPTON, FORMER MISS TEEN USA CONTESTANT: I personally believe that U.S. Americans --

MOOS: Remember Caite Upton was asked at the Miss Teen USA Pageant why 1/5 of Americans can't locate the U.S. on a world map, she got lost.

UPTON: Like South Africa and the Iraq, everywhere like -- such as.

MOOS: But since then she's capitalized on her blunder, joking about it in a pistachio nut ad.

UPTON: I personally believe that cracking shells will help Americans who don't have maps.

MOOS: She globe trotted in the "Amazing Race." Even as his rivals mocked her.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Everywhere like such as.

MOOS: He stars in her own Web series, "Learning Stuff with Caite Upton" in which she plays dumb.


UPTON: Like the Newton --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, not exactly.

MOOS: And on tosh.0, she got a do-over answering that same beauty pageant question but this time giving the correct response.

UPTON: I don't know.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, South Carolina. It's a beauty pageant, America. Nobody gives a (EXPLETIVE DELETED) what's going on up here.

MOOS: Joanlia, meet your role model, Caite.

UPTON: I personally believe --

LISING: Seeing is believing.

MOOS: Jeanne Moos, CNN.

UPTON: Everywhere like such as.

LISING: Thank you. That'll be it.


BLITZER: Leave it to Jeanie Moos. Thank you.

Coming up, a very, very serious subject. The SITUATION ROOM special report. "Crisis in Syria." That will begin right at the top of the hour.

Also George Zimmerman -- Zimmerman's plans to ask the state of Florida for hundreds of thousands of dollars in reimbursements for court expenses. His attorney, Mark O'Mara, he's here in the SITUATION ROOM. He's next.


BLITZER: The lawyers who defended George Zimmerman against the second-degree murder charge in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin, they are planning to ask the state of Florida to reimburse him hundreds of thousands of dollars in costs incurred during the course of the trial.

Under state law, he could get that money back.

And Mark O'Mara, the defense attorney for George Zimmerman, is joining us now.

Mr. O'Mara, thanks very much for coming in. You know, there's a lot of taxpayers out there who aren't going to be happy if your client gets what? $200,000 or $300,000 reimbursement for legal expenses, even though he was acquitted.

What do you say to those taxpayers who aren't going to be happy about that?

MARK O'MARA, GEORGE ZIMMERMAN'S ATTORNEY: Well, first of all, the statute allows reimburses for an acquitted client. So like any other citizen, he has the same right that anyone would be once you get acquitted of a crime.

I think that their anger is better focused on the prosecution who decided to charge an innocent man with a crime that they could not convict him of. And then force us to spend not only $200,000 we're seeking reimbursement for but another $1.5 million, $1.7 in fees and other expenses. That's where I think the frustration ought to be.

BLITZER: You and your co-counsels, so far you haven't been reimbursed at all for representing George Zimmerman. Is that right?

O'MARA: That's correct. I have not received a penny and fees at all in this case. We're keeping track of our billing. And I wish I could say that the State Attorney's Office would be responsible for reimbursement of the necessary attorney fees that we spent, but the law doesn't allow for that.

BLITZER: But at some point, if he does make money whether through book deals or movie deals or -- I know he's suing NBC News, you'll start getting some money for your own expenses. Is that right?

O'MARA: That's truly my hope, yes. We have kept track of the billing. George acknowledged an obligation to pay it if and when he can. Through the case (INAUDIBLE) getting any money upfront, but hopefully there'll be a day in the future I can get some of those fees back.

BLITZER: I want to play a clip. The former secretary of state, retired general, Colin Powell, was on "Face the Nation" last Sunday with Bob Schieffer, and had this exchange. Listen to this.


BOB SCHIEFFER, "FACE THE NATION": What do you think the implications in the fallout of the Trayvon Martin case will be?

COLIN POWELL, FORMER SECRETARY OF STATE: I think that it will be seen as a questionable judgment on the part of the judicial system down there. But I don't know if it will have staying power.


BLITZER: Questionable judgment. You want to respond to that?

O'MARA: Yes. I'm hopeful that he's talking about questionable judgment in the decision to prosecute an innocent man. If he's talking about questionable judgment about the jury's decision, that was not a questionable decision they made. The state failed to prove their case against an innocent man.

And I think everyone from President Obama to General Powell to everybody else should look at this case and say the case is tried properly, he was acquitted properly, and we have to respect the jury that took their time to make a decision.

BLITZER: The name Trayvon Martin repeatedly over the past few days has come up here in Washington in all the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" speech, including several prominent African-American leaders have raised that name and the case. Listen to these little clips.


BEN JEALOUS, NAACP PRESIDENT: Claim some victories right now. Let us say yes, we will pass Trayvon's law from coast to coast.

MARTIN LUTHER KING III, MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.'S SON: The tears of Trayvon Martin's mother and father remind us that far too frequently, the color of one's skin remains a license to profile, to arrest, and to even murder with no regard for the content of one's character.

SYBRINA FULTON, TRAYVON MARTIN'S MOTHER: As I said before, Trayvon Martin was my son. But he's not just my son. He's all of our son and we have to fight for our children.

(END VIDEO CLIP) BLITZER: What does it say to you that this case was so repeatedly underscored over these past few days here in Washington?

O'MARA: I truly don't mind if they want to use this event as a catalyst for us to have a discussion about certain issues in the criminal justice system that we should be talking about. We know there are some existing racial inequities in the system. And I'm OK with that. I do have a bit of a frustration that they seem to be willing to ignore or minimize some of the facts of the case and look just at the color of Trayvon's skin to use him as sort of the benchmark for a movement.

Trayvon was a good 17-year-old, but he was there that night and we now know from what the jury says that there was responsibility on both sides for how that tragedy occurred.

BLITZER: Mark O'Mara, thanks very much for joining us.

O'MARA: Sure. It's great to be with you again. Good talking to you.